Healthcare, State Government

DSF Stop program turns over building keys; foundation thinks items may have been wrongfully removed

MORGANTOWN – The Dunbar School Foundation Stop program has apparently ceased operation. DSF president Houston Richardson said early Friday that he learned Thursday evening that Stop would be turning over the keys to its High Street Fairmont headquarters to him; and confirmed later Friday that he had received them.

In addition, Richardson said the board is considering filing a police report alleging Stop wrongfully removed state COVID-19 grant-purchased items from the HQ without foundation permission.

Regarding this allegation, The Dominion Post received information on May 26 that Stop was removing items and was asked to notify the state Department of Health and Human Resources. We did, and learned shortly after that the matter was referred to DHHR’s Bureau for Public Health.

Then, on May 30, DHHR said in an email, “DHHR’s Bureau for Public Health is still conducting the monitoring and compliance review and is evaluating the expenses and purchases. If there is a suspicion of active wrongdoing or criminal behavior, that needs to be referred to law enforcement.”

We notified the foundation of that reply, which led to a discussion about a possible referral during Thursday’s DSF board meeting. Richardson said board members wanted time to think about it, and they will return to that topic during a meeting this week.

The Dominion Post sent questions to Stop CEO Romelia Hodges on Friday concerning Stop’s status, the removal of items, and whether Stop’s rented GMC Yukons had been returned to the rental agency, but Hodges did not respond.

Stop – created to provide COVID testing and vaccination services to the Black community in Marion, Monongalia, Harrison and Taylor counties – has operated on federal grants channeled through DHHR. The first was for $1.2 million, and the second, for the period July 1, 2022, through May 31 this year (just expired) was for $990,000.

As previously reported, DHHR told The Dominion Post, “The review currently being conducted by DHHR and mentioned throughout the responses to your questions are not routine monitoring procedures. … DHHR planned the review in June 2022 in response to a tip from an external source. The review began in July 2022. Once DHHR received the tip from the external source, it caused DHHR to consider the DSF to be a high-risk grantee that warrants additional monitoring beyond the standard level of monitoring that is required for all DHHR grant awards.”

The Dominion Post also sent questions Friday morning to DHHR about these matters, including Stop’s current status and the proper disposition of items and equipment purchased with public grant money. We followed up with a phone call and learned DHHR was working on answers, and followed that with a reminder email about 45 minutes before DHHR offices closed. But DHHR did not supply answers.

Regarding the potential police report, Richardson said, “It doesn’t seem the right thing to do for them to take stuff out of there that I think doesn’t belong to them. … I think there’s going to be a police report filed.”

Richardson said Hodges, through one of the other board members, has asked for an audit of the foundation’s books and Stop’s books. But, considering the expense, he wants an official directive from DHHR before he’ll do that.

He said again he’s never seen Stop’s books detailing its spending, and acknowledged again they didn’t set up proper oversight at the beginning.

It was noted that DSF asked Stop twice to turn over its books for tax filing purposes, but never received them.

Hodges also never signed two building lease agreements submitted to her, DSF said.

Richardson said Friday that Stop remains $11,000 in arrears for rental of the former Dunbar school cafeteria Stop remodeled for its headquarters. The last rent check was received in November.

As previously reported, Hodges acknowledged the delinquency and said as part of the DHHR review, the state said DSF and Stop did not have an arm’s length lease agreement; the state views them as one organization and doesn’t allow it to pay itself rent. So, they have had to modify that line item in their budget and are waiting to hear back from the state.

A question about this was among those DHHR did not answer on Friday.

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